Observations from Buffalo’s 3-0 preseason loss to Toronto
It’s pretty hard to seriously take anything away from Buffalo’s 3-0 loss to Toronto at Ricoh Coliseum Friday night, given the fact that the Leafs had many of their stars in the game while the Sabres dressed two regular defensemen and three or four regular forwards.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t the best of offensive performances for the Sabres. Much of the problem stemmed from the fact that Toronto had 9 power plays, which made it difficult for Sabres coach Phil Housley to make evaluations of the fringe players in his lineup. They weren’t mostly what you’d call smart penalties, either. The worst one may have been when Kevin Porter ran into Toronto goalie Curtis McElhinney.
The most impressive Sabre was easily goaltender Linus Ullmark, who stopped 32 of 33 shots and didn’t give up an even strength goal. Ullmark looked composed and made some big time saves, including a stop of Auston Matthews as the Leafs’ star darted out of the penalty box and came in on a breakaway. Matthews had a few other chances on the night as well, but to no avail for him.
On the power play, Morgan Rielly scored the only goal of the game that wasn’t into an empty net. Other than that, Buffalo’s penalty kill was pretty solid. The Sabres went 0-4 on the power play themselves.
As you’d expect given who played in the game for both teams, the Sabres had problems implementing Housley’s system. They weren’t quick enough to win puck battles in their own end to kick start their transition game. Without the puck, they were using their sticks more than their feet and as a result were usually a step behind the Leafs. When they were able to break the puck out, the result was often a neutral zone turnover.
Seth Griffith played on the top line with Ryan O’Reilly and Benoit Pouliot, and it didn’t go great for him. He had a terrific scoring chance off a beautiful pass from O’Reilly but was stopped point blank by McElhinney. Nicholas Baptiste and Pouliot were also non-factors.
On the positive side, besides Ullmark, I spent a lot of time curiously watching Victor Antipin and was impressed. He looks like a smooth skater with a low center of gravity who moves around the ice well. He seems to have a technical knack for tying up opposing forwards in front of his net with his stick.
The new faceoff rule didn’t seem to have a major impact in this one. Ryan O’Reilly told the media afterwards that he noticed both his wins and losses were clean with no battles for the puck. It’ll take some getting used to for him just as with everyone else.
Evan Rodrigues was injured by a big hit and did not return. There’s no word at this time about the extent of his injury.
These two teams go back at it again Saturday night at KeyBank Center. The premise will likely be flipped as the Sabres should have most of their stars in the lineup while the Leafs may sit most of theirs.